Tattoo ink masquerades as lesions

December 3, 2004

Sailors and bikers aren't the only ones getting tattoos these days. As more and more "mainstream" women get tattoos, physicians are finding the ink from the tattoos can migrate to the lymph nodes and show up on screening mammograms.

Sailors and bikers aren't the only ones getting tattoos these days. As more and more "mainstream" women get tattoos, physicians are finding the ink from the tattoos can migrate to the lymph nodes and show up on screening mammograms.

Researchers at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City presented a case report in the September issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology describing a patient presenting with apparent calcifications in the axillary lymph node on a screening mammogram.

The patient, a 35-year-old woman, was obtaining a baseline mammogram. She had extensive tattoos over her shoulders, arms, and back and had a mother who had been diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 55 years old.

After a bilateral mammogram, physicians detected a foci of calcification density around the right axillary lymph node. After fine-needle aspiration, pathologists determined that tattoo ink had been the true culprit behind the mammographic findings.

The researchers note that at least 30 different pigments are commercially available, each with varying levels of metallic ions. Tattoo artists will mix different inks to achieve subtle variations in shades and colors, making it difficult to determine which tattoos will lead to abnormal mammograms.